Verb WordsJune 27, 2021
Austin’s book, How to Do Things With Words, is undoubtedly his best-known and most influential work. In this work, Austin criticizes the understanding of language that was widely accepted in philosophical circles at the time. According to this understanding of language, the main function of sentences is to express facts. Sentences are true if they are successful in expressing these facts, and false if they are not. Austin is not of this opinion. According to him, sentences with truth value constitute a very small part of words (Eng. utterance). In this book, Austin deals with what he calls operant words, after giving a few examples of sentences that can be neither true nor false.
There are two basic features that characterize such sentences. The first is that although these sentences have the form of declarative sentences, they are not descriptive and therefore do not take a truth value. The second is to express one of these sentences under certain appropriate conditions, not just to say something, but to take an action.
A performative utterance is fruitless rather than false when it does not produce the desired result. Austin calls the action performed when a performative word is spoken as speech-act. Later, Austin named this act as illocutionary act because it is a non-discourse act exhibited through discourse. The following examples can be given to speech-acts: “I accept this person as my wife” at a wedding ceremony. means, when a baby is born, “I name this baby Ali.” say; saying “I leave this house to my brother” in a will, etc.
According to Austin, there is an action in each of these statements, and none of these statements take a true or false truth value. The expressions in question are used to do something (accept marriage, name or make a will).
Austin then subjected the operant words to a more detailed classification. Consider the act of asking a question. Ali asked Ayşe, “Is the case of the mobile phone made of leather?” he asks. Here, Ali performed an act in which he produced a string of sounds. In this respect, Austin calls the performance exhibited as phonetic act. The act itself is a phonetic-act (Eng. phone). The question asked by Ali is a Turkish sentence because it is suitable for Turkish grammar and contains Turkish words. Therefore, the phonetic act in question is also a verbal act (Eng. phatic act). Austin also calls such acts verbal-acts (Eng. pheme). In addition, Ali made an act that refers to a certain object (the mobile phone and the type of material it is made of). A verbal-act with such a reference is also called the focus of meaning (Eng. rheme). As it is seen, it is necessary to exhibit a verbal act, and therefore a vocal act, in order to exhibit an act that includes a meaning focus. All three types of acts are acts of saying something and are called by Austin locutionary act. However, Ali did not just say something, he also asked a question. Such an act, the act of asking questions, is an extra-discourse act exhibited through saying.
Apart from asking questions, there are many different acts that can be exhibited: giving orders, making promises, making promises, etc. To perform an act outside of discourse, which is exhibited through saying, is to use an act of saying together with a certain effect (Eng. Force). It is not an act of saying something, but an act of saying something.
For example, Ayşe gave an answer to Ali’s question, “Yes, it is.” Let’s imagine what you said. Austin calls an act performed to encourage another’s response as a perlocutionary act because it leads to another act. Such an act involves performing an act by saying something. Whoever successfully performs such an act is performing both an act of saying and an act of non-discourse which is exhibited through saying.
The focus in Austin’s speech-act theory is non-discourse acts performed through discourse. Other classifications have been put forward to explain these acts.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook